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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Break Out the Shoe Polish, Furniture Polish, or Whatever Polish - It's Time to Submit Your Stories

Alright kids, we've spent the summer working on our novels, fretting about the state of the publishing industry, blogging about how hot Michael Phelps is, but the summer is drawing to an end, and now it's time to start getting out there again. With our fiction of course.

The 12th Annual Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction contest is open with a deadline swiftly approaching on October 1st. You can read about submission guidelines here. This year's judge will be Elizabeth McCracken, author and teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Compared with other contests, this one has a shockingly fast turn around with winners scheduled to be announced on December 1st. That makes the contest rather appealing, considering you're not tying up your best story in six months of consideration.

So how do you go about polishing your story for submission? Here are some suggestions on how to make polishing painless:

1. Ask yourself the big questions - It's tempting to polish a first or second draft story, especially a story that hasn't been workshopped or critiqued, and then decide that it's ready for the big show. But instead of rushing its adolescence, ask yourself the tough questions:

- What is this story about?
- Are all of the elements of the story in service to the main idea?
- How does the main character change at the end of the story? Or what is their act of non-change?
- Is that change revealed by an action or an active decision, or is it revealed in exposition?
- Is the tone consistent?

If you have trouble answering any of those questions, you probably need to take the story to a new draft. Not just a polish - a draft.

2. Read your story aloud -
Reading aloud helps to reveal any lingering awkward sentences or phrasing. Smooth those out. Don't be afraid to really get in there and rearrange your syntax.

3. Scan backwards for typos -
Try this to outsmart your brain: read each sentence forwards and then backwards. Reading backwards allows you to take each word on its own, and stops your brain from mentally filling in blanks or correcting mistakes. Remember, spellcheck is not infallible people.

4. Do not let anyone read it -
With less than two weeks to polish and submit your story, this is not the time for outside comments, which may make you feel uncertain or discouraged. Use and trust your own judgment. Hopefully you are submitting a third or fourth draft story that has already been read and critiqued by trusted writer friends.

Feel free to share your own polishing tips in the comments. Good luck everyone!

2 comments:

randika said...

Egad! It's time to dust off that story about the horrible highway incident. Ew. They do have a fast turnaround, far better than a certain mag which I just got a response from (a personal one, yay) I kid you not, A YEAR after submission. No joke.

stu said...

Right at the point where I've got nothing good lying around. Oh well, time to see if I can write something good in less than a fortnight.